Facing a Mountain

On Monday I found myself on the short end of the pool gods' favor. Every shot was tough, every layout was tough, and every miss by my opponent seemed to exacerbate the situation.  My opponent was someone whom I've had trouble beating in the past, though we were (until this session) the same level.  Now I have to spot her 2 games on the wire (going to 9).  Every time we played even the match went hill-hill, so I was a little concerned how this might turn out, considering my ups'n'downs as of late.

I stole the first rack on her miss late in the rack, but then she got the next 2 and I finally got one, making it 2-4 in her favor.  Then I traded her 2 more games for one of mine, making it 3-6. 

I recognized I wasn't playing my "A" game early on so I opted to go for a more technical approach, rather than a fluid and natural style - but it seemed my mechanics were doing everything they could to betray me.  She gets another game, 3-7.  I start to feel those familiar feelings of inevitable defeat.

Then the greatest thing happened. I remembered watching an entire weekend of amazing alternate-break-9ball pool where several huge comebacks were staged. (The Smokin' Aces $32K barbox tournament.) I convinced myself I was not done yet.  I only had to wait for my opportunity to arrive.

We were playing very slow (averaging about 10 MINUTES per rack), lots of safety battles, giving me more time to prepare for the time when I could begin my assault.  As we continued to trade innings and balls I noticed that the rolls started to turn my way.  I wasn't getting hooked as often, and she was starting to get out of line more often.

I get a game, 4-7.  Then another .. and then I get a little over-confident in my come-back-ability and it costs me a game.  It's now 5-8, she's on the hill and I realize the pressure is now on HER to finish it off.  My only job was to keep her in high-pressure / low-percentage situations.  Lock balls up, play everything as a two-way shot.  "Don't be a hero." I told myself.  

I get another game... 10 minutes later I get one more.  It's now 7-8 and she's getting visibly frustrated being unable to finish it off.  I felt like I could steal this match.  I was excited and focused.

It was my break and I put down a decent one, but a bump of the 6 ball sent the cueball into the pocket ... and left a 3-9 combo wide open, with natural position from the 2.  She makes the combo and wins the match (a 2 1/4 hour ordeal).

Okay, so I lost.  While it was frustrating - and made a little moreso by the other league members that finished up and came over to watch (and commentate in a dead quiet room) our battle - I still feel like I did reasonably well. ... Tolerable, I'd say, with a few bonus points.

I maintained a (mostly) positive attitude while being down the entire match.  I kept optimism at the front of my mind.  I analyzed what was going on and took strategic steps to play the odds in my favor.  And best of all ... it worked!

When I think back to all the matches I've ever been down that much I can't think of a single time when I hadn't already given up.  This set was no exception to producing those thoughts.  I'd have that thought "just snap it on the break" and then immediately push that out of my mind.  "SCREW THAT! I'm gonna show anyone who's looking what a comeback is."  No lead is safe.  I ought to know... I was up 6-0 against this very same opponent last year and ended up losing the set 7-9. This was my "revenge" for that set (although I suppose since it was my own doing, it wouldn't be revenge as much as avenging myself).

Even though I didn't make it a winning comeback, I pulled myself out of the rut and staged a hell of a comeback against a lot of little roadblocks.  Racks won are also important in this league, so in that end I did pretty well.

As far as losses go, I don't think I've ever been happier with one.  I recognize this as a great stepping stone for my mental game - and I hope to build on it.  Almost every week I find some little thing to be happy about, and almost all of them are mental aspects.  I feel like I'm still struggling physically, but I'm betting that's just because my mind is in a transitional period lately and it's a symptom of mental distraction.

I'm anxious to see what the next 6 months brings my way.  I'm looking forward to sparring with more seasoned players, and letting my natural game come forward.

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Filed Under: 9-Ball · League

Perspective

I've been sparring with some new people lately they are perfect examples of how I want to play the game. Confident and consistent. They make the game look easy to me.  I enjoy watching them and I enjoy playing them.  I feel (perhaps erroneously)  like I should be able to hang with them though.  I don't make the mistake of thinking I should win a lot, but I absolutely believe I should be able to put up a good fight.  Sure, it would be nice to win once in a while, and the law of averages suggests that I should.  But I rarely do.  And when I do, it's because of their rare mistake rather than my own good play.  So, here we are 15 months after the first time I recall saying that I want to win because I won, rather than my opponent losing.  There was a point about 8 months ago where that was case. I simply out-played my opponents. People were scared to see me in the opponent spot.  This is no longer the case.  

Why? (Always with the why.)  It's not because my ability has decreased, though I feel like I'm in a huge rut right now.  It's not because I make a lot of poor decisions at the table, though it seems no matter what I do, it costs me the rack.  It's not because I'm getting unlucky, though it feels like my opponents are getting better rolls.

The truth is it's because I'm playing above my head.  8 months ago when I was winning a lot, I was playing people my skill level or lower for the most part.  I've changed my opponent pool to include much stronger players than myself (on average) and so it should be no surprise that I'm going to struggle to get wins in this higher bracket. 

My skill has actually gotten better, not worse. I'm more consistent with shots that gave me trouble 8 months ago.  My decisions are better, I play smarter than I did 8 months ago.  Luck comes and goes.

Why then do I feel like I couldn't hit the broad side of a barn these days?  Because mistakes cost more in this field.  I'm sparring with players who only need 1 chance at the table to get out.  It's a lot like playing the ghost.  One of my mistakes is all they need to win the rack/match.  8 months ago, if I made a mistake somewhere in the rack, I still had a chance to return to the table to make up for it.  That 2nd chance is now gone.

Unfortunately, my mindset is still waiting for that 2nd chance, so when it doesn't come, it hits me that much harder.  By the end of the night, I'm usually so afraid of making any mistake that I can't even put a good stroke on a simple shot.  Still, I fight (or try to) through it best I can.  Sometimes if I can fight long enough I'll wear them out and start clawing my way back, but more often the match doesn't (or can't) last that long.

Hindsight is always 20/20 and now, away from the table, I realize and understand and accept that this is all part of the growing pains required to becoming a better player.  These are my "dues".  This is my "seasoning". And this will continue for quite a while.  There is no magic pill, cue, chalk, book or video that will instantly make me the player I want to be.  Only time can do that. (assuming that time is filled with practice and learning and gaining experience)  This doesn't mean I don't want it all right now, but I desperately do, which sadly, only feeds the frustration meter when it all comes crumbling apart.  Here is precisely where I need to keep some perspective.

As much as I want to complain about how I play sometimes (in reference to how far I am from where I want to be), I really need to step back and look at how far I've come. I have to remind myself that I've only been playing seriously for 4.5 years. For all of my reading, writing, seeking understanding and analysis, I only have a tiny handful of actual experience from which to draw confidence. The people I'm playing against have been playing anywhere from 2 to 6 times that amount.  They have long forgotten what it's like to be here, except to say they once were. They have suffered the pressures, defeats and embarrassments of a thousand matches.  They have learned these roads and ingrained their twists, potholes and rickety bridges into the back of their memory.

And so I find myself at the start of a maze of roads unknown to me and must stumble my way through.  I must expect to fall into holes, stray off the path into ditches and unsteadily cross those bridges.  I must focus on the task at hand, ensure my footing and slowly push forward on steady ground.  "Eyes on the prize" does not apply to this part of my journey.  I need them singularly focused on the now.  

Only at times like these, where I find a small stable patch to rest, can I both reflect on my history and envision my future.  If I wish to make it out of this limbo I must dedicate myself to the task, as just listlessly wandering towards the apparent exit will never get me there.

Simply writing this entry gives me new inspiration, new motivation to prove that I can and do belong here.*  I will be a fierce competitor and not plainly "dead money".  I will be someone people don't want to see in the brackets.  I will be someone that "plays good" instead of "ok".  I will be a Pool Player.**

 

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* - Currently my goal is to earn my entry into the local league of "upper echelon" players; as that is about as far as I'll likely be able to take it given my situation.  And I'm perfectly 100% fine with that goal.

** - To the best of my ability given that it is not a job for me, nor will it ever be a job.  I have a standard 40hr/week 9-5 job.  So my path will be longer than those who have a more flexible schedule, allowing them to practice 20-40 hours a week (whereas I'm lucky to get 5 hours of real practice in a single week).  

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Filed Under: General · Training

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